Philip Alston led a colorful and controversial life. During the American Revolution, besides the skirmish that took place at his home, he was also captured by Tory forces at Briar Creek, Ga. After being released he kept his militia activities local.
Alston was the son of Joseph John Alston and Elizabeth Chancy Alston of Halifax County. His father was a very wealthy man who at his death, left an estate consisting of more than 150 slaves and over a thousand acres of land. From all this, Alston only received those slaves already in his possession. Many writers describe this fact as being "curious" or "significant". However, Alston married well. His wife Temperance Smith, also from Halifax, received a large piece of land on the Roanoke River, which increased her husband's holdings.
By the time he came to the Cumberland-Moore County area Philip Alston was clearly a man of means and influence. In 1772, he bought 4,000 acres north and south of the bend in Deep River. Soon afterwards, he built the magnificent house still standing on its original site. At the time, Alston's house, which was probably constructed by a Scotsman named McFadden, was one of the finest in this part of the state. At this time Alston also owned several slaves. By 1777 his land holdings incorporated 6,936 acres and Alston quickly established himself as a political leader for this area.
Much has been written about Alston's character. These were reckless times in the North Carolina backcountry and it can certainly be said that he was a bold and aggressive man. For example, Alston got himself promoted from lieutenant colonel in the Cumberland Militia to full colonel by petitioning the N.C. General Assembly. After the war, Alston became one of the first justices at the Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions and also clerk of court for Moore County. Later he would become a member of the State Senate. Alston's political success shows he had some support from leaders in this area.
It was during his tenure in the Senate that Alston's problems began. Evidence was presented that he had murdered Thomas Taylor during the war while commanding a corps of militia to suppress British loyalists. It was eventually decided that Taylor's death was a legitimate act of war and Alston was pardoned by Governor Caswell. However, considerable debate and controversy swirled around this decision.
A bitter feud with George Glascock, who had replaced Alston as clerk of court when he was elected to the Senate, followed. After Alston's reelection to the General Assembly, George Glascock; Henry Lightfoot, the county solicitor; and John Cox, a member of the House of Commons from Moore County, contested his seat. They reminded the Senate that Alston had been indicted for murder and George Glascock presented a statement that Alston had threatened to instigate a riot if Henry Lightfoot got elected instead of him. It was also pointed out that Alston did not believe in God. The plot was successful; Alston was removed from the Senate and Moore County was told to elect a new senator.
Philip Alston became a justice of the peace, but in May 1787, Glascock succeeded in getting him removed from this seat as well. However, George Glascock's victories over his rival would cost him dearly. Three months later, he was murdered by "Dave," one of Alston's slaves. It was stated that Alston gave a party at his home the night of the murder, being careful to establish his presence at all times. Alston bailed Dave out of jail but before trial, the enslaved man fled the state, costing Alston 250 pounds.
In May 1788, Alston was fined 25 pounds for contempt of court in Moore County. He was released on bond from the Wilmington jail but soon returned. In December 1790, he escaped from this jail and fled to Georgia where he was murdered in 1791-- someone shot him through a window as he lay in bed. Legend has it that the murderer was Dave. Soon after, the Alston family sold the Horseshoe Bend house and property and left North Carolina.